“How am I going to fill nine hours a day?” was the plaintive cry I made when I was compulsorily retired eighteen months ago. The plaintive cry has now changed to “How am I going to get my housework and garden done?”
Eighteen months into “semi-retirement” and I’m still not used to it. I am still in denial. I still think I am “just resting” between jobs. Yet when the telephone rings unexpectedly during the day, I answer it with trepidation, thinking it might be an agency ringing to ask if I will do yet another full-time relief job for about five weeks. The phrase “temp to perm” fills me with dread. Ideally I’d like a nice quiet bookkeeping job in a family business, two maybe three days a week, but the agencies still keep trying to get me interested in working full-time in huge conglomerates, working to strict deadlines in their very dynamic accounts departments. Been there, done that, don’t need any more tee-shirts! I just need enough work to top up my very meager pension (that I’m not claiming yet) and to keep me feeling like I can still contribute usefully to the working world.
So here I am, fully retired I suppose, because no agencies have rung with anything remotely suitable for months. I should be happy, shouldn’t I? Isn’t retirement what everyone eagerly desires all their working life?
Well, I can get up when I like, get dressed when I like, eat when I like, go out when I like, do what I like, and go to bed when I like. I can cope with all that. But how do I cope with the sense of guilt that I feel all the time? I should be doing this, or I should be doing that domestic task. How do I get into the routine of doing all those, in my mind, senseless daily jobs, like housework and ironing? What an inordinate waste of time those jobs are anyway, but they have to be done.
I have never been a domestic goddess, but I was better at it when I was working full time. I had no choice then. Saturday was the day to be doing all that. And I did! As a wife and mother, I’d get my house looking spic and span, including clean my windows, top and bottom, inside and out, do all the washing and maybe even a bit of ironing, and even find time to do some gardening before preparing the family a special Saturday night meal. I did all that in the space of about eight hours, so why can’t I control myself to do it now?
Every day I get up with good intentions. “Maybe I’ll tackle the ironing today”, I think to myself as I draw back my bedroom curtains, congratulating myself that I have beaten Mrs Parker over the road to getting the day started. But my ironing doesn’t get done. It just hangs there in my “junk” room, waiting for a day when I decide to wear some of it and iron, at the last minute, what I’ll be wearing before I rush off somewhere.
Admittedly, my social diary is quite full these days. I rushed out and joined every social, educational and walking group I could find, in the initial blind panic of wondering how to fill nine redundant hours a day. On average I have whittled it down to three or four events a week now. Probably these events only last three or four hours each, but it is surprising how that eats into my day. Getting ready to go takes much longer than getting ready to go to work on a daily basis. For instance, I have to decide what is suitable attire for the day in view of the unpredictable weather conditions. At least at work one knows what the ambient temperature is likely to be! At work I had five outfits ironed and ready to wear each week. They varied in summer and winter, of course, but basically, it would be the same five outfits. My activities now could be indoors or outdoors, wet or dry, hot or cold. With my ironing stashed in my “junk” room, I need to iron the right outfit to suit today’s conditions. That adds at least another half hour to my morning preparations. So there you are – four and a half hours of the nine already taken care of.
Then, when I get home from wherever I’ve been, I’m usually gasping for a cup of tea (with or without a piece of cake), and a sit down for a while. This will usually involve me turning on my laptop. How did I manage life before I had a laptop? Emails need answering, and where do all these jokes come from? I need to check the status of all my Facebook friends, just in case I miss anything. I need to Google where I’ve just been, and check what I gleaned, or what I missed. If I’ve been anywhere remotely interesting, I need to write about it so I remember it when I’m old and senile (no comments there please!), and I need to download the sixty-odd photos I took while I was there.
Before I know it, the dogs are whinging that it’s past their dinner time and they haven’t had their walk yet! I’ve not only filled the nine redundant hours, but I’m halfway through the evening by now, and still got to think about what I am going to eat – it’ll have to be quick, because I’ve just realised that my stomach is rumbling! The dogs get a quick walk around the block (they can’t walk very far these days, due to their arthritis), I give them their supper, and grab some pasta – that will be quick. I forgot to defrost any meat, so I have it with what I can find. I’m excellent at concocting balanced diet meals in ten minutes!
We have just passed the longest day, and sadly nights will be drawing in. However, I never get to sit down and watch telly until it is dark, even now! I have filled the nine hours – and more!
That is on the days I go out. How about the days when I don’t?
Well, I try to do what I always did when I was at work, rush around like a mad thing for two hours getting the dogs, house and myself sorted for the day, but it doesn’t quite work out right! I sort out the dogs, then sit at my table with my laptop, reading my emails and my friends’ Facebook postings over my bowl of cereal and coffee.
Three or four hours later, because I am under no pressure to go to work, or meet people socially, I find myself still at my laptop, with a rumbling tum, and it is time for a coffee break. Maybe I can find time to have a bath and get dressed first, maybe not! Maybe, like today, I have had the urge to write. Maybe I just wanted to look up a few things on Google. Maybe I realised I haven’t recently made my moves in on-line Scrabble, but here I am, and it’s Jeremy Vine on Radio Two at noon. Thankfully, I haven’t fallen into the pit of watching daytime TV, in fact, I haven’t fallen into the pit of watching much TV at all! Even Wimbledon has taken a back seat. I’m so busy doing whatever I’m doing, I forget it’s on!
My vacuum cleaner stands expectantly in my lounge, where it was abandoned halfway through it’s task. I got sidetracked when my laptop started working again. It crashes on a regular basis and I use the ‘opportunity’ to catch up with the chores.
There is no hope that I will ever be a domestic goddess! If I organise a social event at my house, I need at least a week to prepare for it! There’s the garden to sort out. I can only manage two hours at a time, which in my wilderness doesn’t even give me time to scratch the surface. I can spend two hours just weeding the patio and trimming the triffids around it. I need two hours each day for a week to get down to the end!
Then there are the bedrooms. Not that my visitors are likely to visit the bedrooms, but at our age one is never sure when someone might need to go for a lie down. I used to keep an upstairs vacuum cleaner, specifically for cleaning the bedrooms, but that has long since ceased to function. Now I have the tasks of cleaning out the dog-hair from my downstairs vacuum cleaner first, refitting a nicely perfumed new vac-bag, then dragging the heavy, industrial-type, cleaner upstairs.
I’m not one for polished furniture, all my furniture is now easy maintenance. In my opinion, using a duster just pushes dust from one place to another, and is a thankless task. As a child I used to watch the dust in a sunbeam settle back down on the nice shiny surface my mother had just used her ‘elbow grease’ polishing. It was then I decided it was a pointless task! Now I do one of two things. I either use the dustette attachment on my vacuum cleaner, which involves suffering the noise of the vac longer, or I use a damp micro-fibre cloth to wipe down my surfaces. Yet still the dust inevitably returns! I obviously shed too much skin, as I can’t blame my dogs, they don’t go upstairs!
Downstairs is not such a problem. Having hairy dogs means I have to vacuum every day, as I have always done. That doesn’t take too long normally, but when I have visitors coming, it takes half the day! Dog hair and dust seem to find their way everywhere – even at the top of the curtains! It is while vacuuming the curtain tops that I look up at the ceiling and spot the cobwebs! There are dogs’ nose marks on my patio doors and glass cabinets. Why don’t I notice these every day?
Of course, all this de-dogging of my living quarters takes most of the day, so by the time my visitors arrive, I am well knackered! Oh for the energy of my younger years! However, I draw on my adrenaline supplies and I am the perfect hostess for a few hours. I don’t need a lie down because my back is aching. I don’t need a snooze after the massive amount of food I’ve just consumed. I ignore my laptop sitting in the corner beeping at me because a message has just been delivered, and I am sociable until the early hours when they all depart again.
Even then, the adrenaline is still pumping, and I load my dishwasher, wondering why none of MY visitors ever wash up in my house, yet they always clear everything in my friends’ houses. Curious that! It’s probably two am by now. With all vestiges of party food cleared away, and my house virtually back to normal, I let the dogs back in and sit back and relax with a glass of wine. Now to answer my emails and messages………..
Yes, it is easy to fill my redundant nine hours!
After being given an ECG because I had chest pains during a bad case of indigestion, my doctor asked me what I do for a living. I looked at him curiously, because he had my notes and would know therefore that I was 67. The words “I am retired” stuck painfully in my throat. I thought of saying, “I am a domestic goddess”, but strangely couldn’t get the words out. Instead, I told him proudly that I was a writer, between jobs as an accountant. Am I retired, I wonder, or still between jobs?